NATO and Russia lay out stark differences on Ukraine crisis

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Russia is demanding a cast-iron guarantee that NATO will not expand further towards its territory

The NATO allies warned Russia on Wednesday that they would not compromise on the alliance’s right to defend its eastern members to avoid further conflict in Ukraine, but invited Moscow to further talks on calming security concerns.

Speaking after talks with Russian envoys at NATO headquarters in Brussels, alliance Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned: “There are significant differences between NATO allies and Russia on these issues.”

President Vladimir Putin’s government has issued a series of demands for the West to rule out accepting new members like Ukraine, Georgia or Finland on its eastern flanks and demanded limits on allied deployments in former Soviet allies that joined NATO after the Cold War.    

“Russia was not in a position to agree on that proposal. They didn’t reject it either, but the Russian representatives made it clear that they needed some time to come back to NATO with an answer,” he said. 

“Ukraine as a sovereign nation, Ukraine has the right to self-defence. Ukraine is not a threat to Russia,” he said. “It is Russia that is the aggressor. It is Russia that has used force and continues to use force against Ukraine.

The West defends NATO’s “open-door policy” towards potential future members, while Moscow is demanding a cast-iron guarantee that the alliance will not expand further towards its territory.

Before Wednesday the NATO-Russia council had not met since 2019. NATO and Russia broke off practical cooperation in 2014 after Moscow occupied and annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea.

Russia’s diplomatic mission to the alliance was withdrawn in October last year after eight of its staff were expelled on allegations of espionage.

After the meeting, Sherman tweeted: “In today’s NATO-Russia Council, I reaffirmed the fundamental principles of the international system and of European security: Every country has the sovereign right to choose its own path.”

Just ahead of the talks, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “The continuation of NATO’s open-door policy and the further advancement of NATO towards our borders is precisely what, from our point of view, threatens us. 

– Open door policy –

The allies have long insisted that NATO membership is a matter for sovereign states to decide for themselves and on Tuesday once again vowed to preserve their open-door policy.

Russia has put intense pressure on Ukraine since 2014, after a revolution overthrew a government that had sided with the Kremlin against moving closer to Europe.

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